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Ask Reyna Anything! Q&A with Olympia Coffee's 2024 Barista and Coffee in Good Spirits Competitor

Posted by Lori White on

Got questions about coffee? Reyna has answers—and lots of 'em. For Olympia Coffee's fearless Director of Training & Innovation, no day would be complete without obsessing over the details of coffee. And her perfectionism's paying off, sending her to the 2024 Coffee Championships for both Barista Competition and Coffee in Good Spirits.

On the competition stage, Reyna glides like a natural. Part of that's experience—last year, she advanced to the semifinals round of the Barista Championships in Portland. Another part is practice, with weeks spent polishing recipes and routines in Olympia Coffee's Training Lab. And then there's sheer confidence: in her inventive and unapologetic ideas, which often draw inspiration from her Korean heritage and her home back in Hawai`i. And in her deep familiarity with the plant, the bean, the very quintessence of coffee.

With Qualifiers behind and Championships kicking off next weekend (the nerves! the excitement!), we opened the floor for you all to ask Reyna your coffee questions. And you responded! So we sat down with Reyna to get her thoughts, suggestions, and hottest takes on beans, brewing, and more. Watch the video on Instagram, and read on for her full answers below!

Q: What's the best home brew method for cold brew?
REYNA: Flash brew. It's 2024, and in the decade since cold brew was the "it" drink, we've found better ways to make iced coffee. You can find our house flash brew recipe in the blog post linked here.

Q: Do you think the difference between a good coffee drink and a great coffee drink is the coffee or the barista?
REYNA: If I got technically-excellent coffee from a mean barista, I probably wouldn't go back. And I'd perceive that coffee as less-good than it probably was. It's called sensation transference: when we're exposed to stimuli that makes us feel a certain way, this emotion permeates the other stimuli that we're receiving. For me, personally, if I walked into a café and Drake was playing and the barista casually quoted Drake lyrics at me, I'd probably have a better-than-average experience. Even if the coffee was mediocre at best.

Q: When using hot coffee as an ingredient, what decision-making process goes into selecting the main liquor to pair with it?
REYNA: It depends on a couple of things. First: your brew ratio and flavor intensity. Second: the temperature you're serving at.

It's really important to remember that coffee is basically water—at least 97% anyway, depending on your brew ratio. Which means that, no matter how you look at it, your coffee essentially acts as dilution for your cocktail. So the more concentrated your coffee, the higher the flavor intensity, the better it stands up to the high intensity flavors of alcohol.

Generally speaking, when you're picking a coffee to make a hot cocktail with, you want to pick something with intense aromatics. Think big berry flavors from a natural process, or something funky and cool like an anaerobic. Then, brew it at a high concentration. I like to start with a 1:13 ratio, giving me just enough dilution to really experience all that the coffee has to offer. This also gives my coffee a good viscosity to match the alcohol's flavor intensity and mouthfeel.

Since we're adding a lot of "dilution" by way of coffee, we want our liquor choice to balance the body of the drink. Using higher ABV liquors comes with some risk, though: if you serve piping hot coffee and liquor, you'll probably get a pretty intense and unpleasant whiff of alcohol. This is where choice of liquor really changes the game. If you use a low-quality, mediocre "mixing" alcohol, you might get some rather unsavory aromas in your cup. I'm not saying to pick the most expensive, top-shelf liquor for this, but maybe steer clear of Gentleman Jack.

For hot coffee cocktails, I like to serve as close to 140ºF as possible. For me, this is the ideal drink temperature—not too hot, not too cool, and stays warm enough to sip on for a while. Keep in mind, ethanol begins to boil at 174ºF. At 140ºF, you won't have steam swirling into your nose, but it'll be warm enough that you can pick higher ABV liquors and not get aromas of pure alcohol on your first sip.

The colder your drink, though, the boozier you can make it. This is why many tropically-inspired drinks are served over crushed ice: they're meant to dilute as you drink them, so you can get away with a lot of high-proof booze. A Mai Tai, for example, is basically 4oz of high ABV liquid plus sugar and citrus, diluted with ice and served over even more ice.

For cocktails served neat, you don't really want to be serving more than 5-ish ounces of liquid. And, for drinks served hot, the flavor of alcohol will really come forward as they cool. Knowing this, pick something that pairs well with the flavors of your coffee and that you would be happy to sip neat. When picking the liquors for my hot cocktail for competition, each drink only got between 1 to 4oz of coffee and syrup. I also used two alcohols that presented very complex flavors (aged rum agricole and an herbal-tropical amaro) that highlighted the funky notes in my coffee. Both of these base spirits are great neat, sipped at room temperature, with heavier bodies that created a silky-smooth texture when combined with my coffee.

(We could do a whole post on coffee and alcohol pairing, really. And hey, maybe we will!)

Q: How do you approach dialing in a lightly roasted decaf coffee with an Italian style, 9-bar machine?
REYNA: I'm not entirely sure what you mean by an "Italian style" machine, but I can tell you that our decaf, which is roasted fairly lightly, works best at a 1:2.2 ratio with a slightly longer extraction time, around 29-31 seconds. Depending on the decaf, your mileage may vary. I can really only speak from experience with EA decafs. Also—and this is just true for less-developed coffees—you'll need hotter water, bigger doses, and much larger yields. I like less-developed coffees brewed with 203ºF+ water and big ratios, like a 1:3.

Q: Tell me about the water you use (tds,gh/kh, filters?). I use very soft Portland tap, and never seem to prefer adding anything!
REYNA: If you've got good water that extracts your coffee well, don't change anything. For brewing coffee at home, I'm good with whatever comes out of my Zerowater pitcher. But if I was being totally honest, I'd way prefer to be brewing with tap water from Hawai`i. I don't really measure my water, as I don't think it's actually that important, but it depends on where you live, right? Also, you can make up for lack of quality water by changing other brew parameters, which is why I've never messed with changing my water.

Q: I'd love to hear any tips for quickly dialing in espresso grinds to avoid channeling.
REYNA: This seems like a workflow issue. First off, make sure you're not banging around your portafilter.

When I make espresso at home, I don't use RDT, WDT, or any type of screen. I'm working with stock Bambino parts (except for the tamp. I had to get myself a better tamp), and haven't experienced any channeling. But let me walk you through the steps for how I make espresso at home.

I grind coffee directly into my portafilter. I'm always trying to fit too much coffee into my basket, because extraction is way better when I over-dose. I do this in two to three doses, and I basically level between each grinder pulse (eg. I'll grind my 18g dose in 3 x 6g bits, and "settle" between each bit). Some coffee pros will tell you that any type of settling is bad. That said, I haven't had an issue with "over-settling" my espresso at home yet.

I use the Stockfleth method because I can't be bothered to buy ANOTHER different tool. And my hands work just fine.

Once my coffee is well-distributed, I tamp. Just normally, using the weight of my body. Then I flush a small amount of water through the group, just to prime the grouphead, and immediately insert and begin extracting.

Here's the thing, right? Home espresso has become so overly complicated that it becomes easier to channel your espresso by doing too much. So here's my hot take: do less. Your coffee will probably taste better if you spend less than 10 minutes thinking about it.

Q: How do you determine how to brew a particular bean to get its best flavors? I usually do pour overs. How do I dial in my grind, water/coffee ratio, brew time/pour over amount and timing, and water temp?
REYNA: This is a big question, because it addresses a lot of the things that many folks get hung up on for home brewing. For someone who (unintentionally) has so much gear, here's my biggest advice: pick a thing and roll with it. Only change one factor at a time. Approach brewing coffee like the science it is. In our chase for perfection, we often want to change all of the factors all at once. But if we change more than one thing at a time, it's hard for us to determine what actually worked.

Here's the truth for how I brew coffee at home: I use one recipe, which has been my recipe forever. I use the same temperature of water, the same brew device with the same type of filters. And the only thing I change is my grind setting. I also have a batch brewer that my partner and I make a 50-60g batch of coffee on. For that, we only occasionally change the grind setting to accommodate certain coffees (such as grinding coarser for East African coffees, or finer for lower-elevation coffees).

Basically, if you're buying from the same roaster over and over again, regardless of whether you're getting their single origins or blends, find a general grind size that works well with a recipe that tastes pretty good. Make that your starting point. And when you get new coffee, use that same grind setting and adjust over the next few brews that you have. Here are my default settings for brewing Olympia Coffee at home:

Ratio: 1:17
Reason: Brew ratio has everything to do with your solubility (read: development). The less developed your coffee, the larger your ratio. 1:16-1:18 is the GENERAL range for most less developed coffees, but this is also influenced by your personal taste. Maybe you like your coffee to sucker punch you in the face with flavors. If that's the case, brew a tighter ratio.

Grind Size: Basically the grain size of Diamond Kosher Salt (next time, someone ask me about my salt selection at my house). I'm usually between settings 11-13 for single cup brews on my Baratza Virtuoso. But for making shareable batches, I'm somewhere between 18-21.

Brew Water Temperature: 205ºF
Reason: Hotter water increases extraction. If your water quality is mediocre, you can get away with using hotter water for better extraction. Also, hotter water is way more repeatable than agitation (eg. stirring your slurry). Sure, there is too-hot, but 205ºF works well for most of our coffees.

Recipe: I have used the same recipe for literally the last 8 years of my life. It's worked on every brewer type for me, and the fact that I can execute it so consistently is what makes dialing in easy. I'm in my high-clarity era: I've been using an Origami ceramic dripper inside my 10-cup Chemex with the bleached Chemex filters. This creates really large gaps between the filter and the brewer, which means that the flowrate for my brew is sped-up. If you want my full range of pour over recipes, find 'em here on our blog.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: doing less is better. Constantly changing stuff around, adding stirring or swirling, or making split-second decisions about when and how much water to put on can create a lot of inconsistencies and make dialing in hard. Doing less means you can track what you did, so you can either repeat it or change it.

Q: I've always wondered if a coffee bean and a cocoa bean met in a bar…🤔 But seriously, couldn't you roast both of these beans, even independently, and make chocolate-infused coffee?
REYNA: Yes, it's totally possible. If you'd like to check out a cool chocolate bar, some folks in Hawaii at Big Island Coffee Roasters make what they call Espresso Bites, where they mill roasted coffee the same way that you'd mill chocolate and turn it into a coffee-infused chocolate bar.

As for brewing them together: sure, you totally could. Some folks put cocoa nibs in their tea sachets and brew it like that. As far as I know, the recommended way to do this is either by French Press or a hybrid method like the Clever, since cocoa is a little harder to extract than coffee. It'd probably be delicious. Not for me, though.

Q: Do you ever, or is it common to stir grounds for a pour over in the filter before adding water such as espresso? I just dump them in the filter basket.
REYNA: I'm guessing this is a question about WDT for pour over. Personally, I dump them into my dry filter and then level them with a couple of shakes, but as far as I'm concerned, there's no need to stir your grinds before you add water. Or after you add water, really.

Q: Should I spritz my coffee beans before grinding in a burr grinder? I make cappuccinos with an Ascaso Dream machine.
REYNA: To be honest I've never heard of that machine before, but I'd buy it on name alone. There are some benefits to RDT, but honestly, most of us making espresso get by without it. That being said, it decreases the static created in grinding. According to some scientists, it helps you achieve a more even grind distribution, which means that you can get better extraction. I've been spraying my coffee for years—mostly because I hate the static-y chaff mess left on my counter and in my grinder if I don't spray.

For espresso, you actually might want a larger range of particle distribution. In order to have "good" extraction, you need the right mix of over- and under-extraction, which means you need both boulders and fines (big particles and small particles) to match that spread. I'm not saying that RDT will eliminate that spread, but if what you're doing works for you without RDT, don't add it simply because the internet tells you to.

Q: My preferred brewer is a 7.9oz moka pot. I usually look for coffee grown at a higher elevation to lower the acidity. As to the roast, I've been all over the board. I've enjoyed both a light and a medium-dark roast and was hoping to get a recommendation as to your favorite Olympia Coffee.
REYNA: If you're looking for lower acidity, I would personally lean towards Morning Sun. Typically, this rotating single origin offering has flavors of chocolate and hazelnut with a nice, heavy mouthfeel. Right now, Morning Sun features a honey-processed coffee from Las Ranas in El Salvador, processed by our friends the Ariz Family at their mill, Fenix. My favorite coffee on the shelf right now might not be a good fit: Hamasho, which is a washed processed coffee from Bensa, Sidamo, Ethiopia. It's got notes of lemon, rhubarb, and floral, with really high acidity and high sweetness. It is delicious, so maybe give it a go!

That's all for now, and thanks for playing this round of Ask Reyna Anything! Always feel free to send us your brewing questions via our SMS channel, First Crack. And tune into our social media to cheer Reyna on as she heads to the Barista and Coffee in Good Spirits Championships!

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